James Mates' first-hand account of the UN envoy being trapped in Crimea cafe by militia

James Mates speaks to Robert Serry. Credit: ITV News

We found UN special representative Robert Serry and his assistant Ruth Sigalus alone, and looking more than a little concerned, in a small cafe in central Simferopol.

With their car surrounded by a mob and an armed man sitting in the driver’s seat with orders to take them to the airport, they had decided to flee.

The cafe was hardly secure, but at least the angry pro-Russian crowd didn't seem to want to come in.

They were both mightily relieved to see us.

“Please keep filming. Don’t leave us,” said Ruth.

With no sign of any one in authority coming to their rescue, they believed that the visible presence of a camera crew was probably the best protection they could have.

We waited 20 minutes or more, Robert Serry making call after call on his mobile phone to New York, Kiev, his local contacts in Simferopol.

Everyone assured him help was on the way, but it was taking an awfully long time.

Between calls, he and Ruth explained to us how their day had gone so horribly wrong.

Ruth was convinced that the armed man in their car was dressed in exactly the same combat fatigues as the Russian soldiers who have appeared in Crimea since Friday.

Being diplomats they couldn’t say he was Russian, but we all knew.

Local officials eventually appeared and bundled all of us out of the cafe and towards a waiting car.

The hostility in the crowd was palpable. "Russia, Russia, Crimea is Russian," they shouted.

Not until more police arrived were they able to part the mob and get the car on the road to the airport.

Robert Serry is heading for Istanbul, his vital diplomatic work in Crimea abandoned.

“This incident shows the urgent need for de-escalation,” he told us.

With no diplomats on the ground, it is not easy to see where that de-escalation is going to come from.